By Heather Killen
The Womens’ Institute of Spa Springs and Victoria Vale is proof that there is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea and a good craft sale.
Every Thursday afternoon the of about 14 ladies get together at Parker Hall to work on crafts that they will later sell to raise money for a long list of worthy causes. Their group belongs to an international organization that began over 100 years ago in rural Ontario.
Their motto is “For Home and Country” and the group is dedicated to encouraging good citizenship through informative and stimulating programs and projects. Each craft day the ladies sit around a long table drinking tea and working on various projects.
Often people will drop by the hall for chat and a quick cup of tea, some drop off craft supplies such as acrylic paint, brushes, felt, and pop bottles that are repurposed into Christmas decorations.
“We enjoy working together and playing together,” said Carolyn Crawford, branch president and the reigning Tea Queen. “We have fun getting together and working on behalf of the community.”
So far they’ve filled at least one large tote in anticipation of the upcoming craft sale and are still producing more. Once a month, on the second Monday at 7 p.m. the group gets down to WI business, which isn’t as fun as the other get-togethers but still must be done according to Crawford.
The group’s two main fundraisers -- a spring Plant Sale and Tea and the Christmas Craft Sale and Tea -- are the times when the ladies’ crafty Thursday afternoons are turned into tidy sums for a long list of good causes.
The spring Coffee Party and Plant Sale has been set for 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on May 19 at Parker Hall. Come all and come early, is the motto for this event that usually has early birds lined up and waiting at the door.
Give To Community
“Every cent we make, we give back to the community,” said Crawford. “And we always include a tea and lunch plate with the sales.”
The lunch plates are loaded with eats and salads, all served with a proper cup of tea as prepared by Crawford, who is the group’s reining Tea Queen. It is she and she alone, who prepares the quintessential cup of tea.
“If the tea isn’t right we will hear all about it,” she said. “So I got some expert advice and now I’m very careful about the type of tea we use.”
Their group donates a student bursary to a graduating student at MRHS each year, helps to maintain the community hall, donates to various charities including the Canadian Cancer Society, the VON, veterans, the food bank, the school breakfast program, as well as giving away Christmas baskets, and a helping hand to people in the community.
The group also tries to stay in touch with the older members of the community, who may be feeling isolated on their own.
“We try to remember people,” she said. “We want to make sure no one is forgotten.”
Open Door Policy
Their open door policy on Thursday afternoons gives people a chance to stop in and chat, while members work at whatever projects are at hand. While many of the members have been with the group for years, they are always looking for new members.
Francesca Smith, who moved to the area with her husband a couple of years ago, says the WI has been a great way for her to get out and meet people in her new community.
“Carolyn invited me to come and I’ve been coming ever since,” she said. “It’s a great way to get involved in your community.”
Three years ago the Spa Springs and Victoria Vale branch began hosting a special day in partnership with the local church. After the service, the congregation goes to the community hall for a light luncheon.
The whole idea of turning whatever materials are at hand into something useful for the community has been a long tradition within the WI. Adelaide Hoodless formed the first Womens’ Institute group in Ontario in 1897 after her 18-month-old son died as a result of drinking unpasteurized milk.
She decided to turn this personal tragedy into a campaign to provide an educational forum for rural women. Her idea was to create a women’s group that would meet regularly to socialize, develop leadership skills to help their communities, and learn up-to-date information to take better care of their families and homes.
By 1906, WI groups began to crop up in other provinces. And by the 1930s the movement had spread to the United Kingdom. Today it has become an international group with 7 million members in approximately 70 countries.
The Spa Springs and Victoria Vale group started in 1974 and now has about 14 members, coming from Kingston, Middleton and Margaretsville. While several of the ladies have been with the group for years, four were presented with lifetime memberships last year.
For more information on the Womens’ Institute of Spa Springs and Victoria Vale, visit the Parker hall on Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m., or visit the plant sale at Parker Hall on May 19 at 10 a.m.. Parker Hall is located in Victoria Vale.